A Light in the Darkness

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-HoodWrite on Edge’s Red Writing Hood prompt this week was a combination of a picture and a song.

Candles and Iowa

Follow the link to see the picture, hear the song, read the submissions, or submit your own.

Having never been to Iowa, the song made me think of the prairies – rolling low hills and vast expanses of emptiness, and farms, of course, because isolated homesteads are the kind with candles flickering in the window, a light you can see for miles.

Feb2011 114

**

She looked in at the flickering candle-light with a kind of longing.

Daddy figured she was probably attracted by the food-smells.  He took to carrying the old shotgun when he went out to the barn in the early morning hours.

Momma stood vigil at the kitchen window, watching her through the chintz curtains.  She had this look in her eye, predatory and ferocious.  Daddy treated Momma like she had to be protected, but I knew better.  Grizzly bears don’t need protecting.

She never came past the fence-line, like she knew she wasn’t welcome.  To me, she seemed worn down by the weight of the world, weary and too-thin.  In a distant way, I knew that a drought-filled dust-bowl summer and an early, bitterly cold winter were to blame.  With her sad golden eyes tugging on my heart-strings, I tied it all back to the things Momma and Daddy talked about late at night, whispered conversations about money, bad crops and our best milker running dry.  Me and Momma had done the canning in half the time this fall – and that wasn’t a good thing.  Times were hard, for us and for her.

An old stew-bone here, a carefully hoarded egg there, I did what I could.  She didn’t exactly fill out, but I could see a new spark in her eye.

Will to live, Daddy called it.

Orneriness, Momma said.  I didn’t tell her that that’s exactly what Daddy said Momma had sometimes.

I just smiled and made sure she got that last biscuit, and a bit of cold stew.  Something to keep the spark alive.

Desperate and starving, men came from the woods when Daddy was two days gone on a trip to town.  We didn’t have much, but it was more than they had.

Momma’s eyes glinted grizzly-bear fierce as she loaded the shotgun, smooth and confident as Anny Oakley.  I hid in the cupboard.  You didn’t back-talk Momma when she had that look in her eye.

She said desperation makes a devil of a foolish man, but her Daddy taught her to shoot.  Men never expect women to put up a fight, and that’s their mistake.

I guess they didn’t expect the wolf, neither.  Between the crack of buckshot and the hair-raising growls and evilly glowing eyes in the darkness, we ran them off.

Daddy came home, wagon rattling with the few things he’d been able to barter for, hopefully enough to get us through the winter.  He was pretty rattled to hear about the incident, snarling about yellow bellied curs, eyes glinting with rage.

I made a nest of blankets for her on the deck, but she wouldn’t stray close.

Daddy said she was a wild animal, and while she liked us, she liked her freedom more.

It was a hungry winter, but she never lost that spark, we made sure of it.  She left with the spring, off over the low hills.

Momma just rolled her eyes when she saw that she took a chicken.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

This is the second Red Writing Hood piece I’m posting.  The challenge was to write a post beginning with a countdown – “Three, two, one” – and up to 300 words.  Some of the examples they gave were disciplining our kids, gathering up nerve, blasting off into space, or getting ready to pop champagne and scream “Happy New Year”… I didn’t do anything remotely like that, but I still think the countdown in my story works pretty well.  Clearly I’ve been watching/reading too many fairy-tale themed things lately.

“…Three… Two… One!”

The woman in red smiled hugely in anticipation, her sharp white teeth flashing in the weak winter light, bright eyes gleaming with madness.  She turned her horse and set off at a trot, following the trail of disturbed snow her prey had left.

***

The wolf panted heavily, struggling to go faster, struggling to overcome the searing pain of the foothold trap clamped down on his leg.  The pain was maddening, dulling his survival instincts and blurring his sight.  In the distance, he could hear the madwoman laughing wildly, the heavy thud of her mount’s hooves as she approached.  He scrambled across a half-frozen creek, dragging himself along the rocky verge in hopes of throwing her off the trail.

***

She found her prey near a small pond, weakly lapping up muddy water.  Triumph and madness intermingled in her face.

“You think you can eat my Gran and get away with it?” she cried, brandishing a wickedly sharp axe, handle stained the brown of old blood.

“Please,” the creature begged, “Please, I didn’t do it! It wasn’t me!  You already killed him.”

The madwoman showed no sign of hearing his plea, as she dismounted and pushed her crimson cloak back on her shoulder.  “You thought you could eat the woodsman’s mother, just because he’s too old to come after you?”

The wolf whimpered, staring up into the eyes of madness.  “How many more, Red?  How many until your revenge is complete?”

The woman swung the axe with both arms, severing the wolf’s head in one blow.

“My, what red blood you have,” she murmured before remounting and riding off in search of the next hunt.

Distant wolfsong warned of Red’s approach.
Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

A Wolf in Dog’s Clothing

My dad isn’t a dog person, on the whole. 

He doesn’t like that they sniff him in his nether regions – “Oh!  Why… excuse me!  I didn’t see you there.  Was that your crotch? Oops!” – luckily, Gwynn doesn’t seem to do that nearly as much as other dogs.  He doesn’t like having to wash his hands constantly because Gwynn is following him around the kitchen, sneakily darting in to lick his fingers as soon as he allows his arms down below chest level.  In my opinion, he will be grateful for this training should he ever have to go after the Phantom of the Opera.  He is definitely not a huge fan of the poop-pickup duty, and hasn’t got any interest in being involved in the dog training. 

I do catch him, on occasion, talking to Gwynn.  If I come downstairs quietly enough in the morning, I might hear my dad in the kitchen offering the dog some Yummy Cheese, what a good dog you are, or enthusiastically urging him on – “Go Get the Squirrel!” – as he opens the starting gate, aka back-door.  Before you say anything, no, he isn’t anywhere near fast enough to catch a squirrel, or anything else that we’ve seen in our back yard.  On the whole, my dad isn’t a squirrel person either, but he doesn’t want their corpses scattered around our yard.

This is why it was so … SO… very confusing to come home and find that both Tall Sister and dad had leapt to meet me at the door, along with Gwynn, my usual welcoming committee. Not confusing that they leapt to greet me at the door (I am just that awesome), but that there was a clear dog-related goal in leaping into action in this way.

Tall Sister – “Quick, come in!”

Dad – “WAIT! No… just come in like you usually do.  Act naturally.

Tall Sister – “Just greet Gwynn like you usually do”

A note here: My standard entrance to my house is this:  open the door, shoo the dog back, and keep shooing until he is about 5 ft away from me (this is to prevent him from thinking he’s allowed to mob whoever comes in the front door), where he generally sits, with rigidly upright posture, waiting for me.  I put down my bag, take off my coat, hang my coat, take off my shoes, put my shoes out of reach of the dog, and walk past him.  I release him from the sit, and, in the living room, give him lots of pets and he prances around a bit.  This is considerably more difficult to do when the dog is extra excited because half the family has come to greet the boss (me) as well, and everyone else is watching me like I’m about to grow a second head at any moment. 

So, with great awkwardness, I take my coat off and unzip my boots (No small feat, I am not the most balanced person, and my crowd of onlookers are blocking access to a chair), and start the walking past Gwynn part of the routine.

Dad – “Don’t forget to greet Gwynn!”  (At this point, I’m thinking – it’s not like I’ve been gone for days and days… I’m just coming home from work!)

Tall Sister – “Don’t worry, this is what she usually does”

Dad  – “oh… ok.  Just… when you greet him, really watch him.”  And then to Tall Sister “Tall Daughter, get it set up.”

SUPER AWKWARD.  And what the hell does that even mean?  What are you setting up?!

So, I go into the living room, call Gwynn over, and as soon as he is within reach of me, about to get pets and affection, and prancing a bit, Tall Sister and my Dad start cheering like they’re standing at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby.  Their conversation is basically an exchange of “Did you see that?!” “Yes! Excellent!” “Wow!”

I couldn’t have been more baffled by this than if they’d started complimenting me on my toilet-bowl scrubbing form (And a 9.7 to Alexandra, for that marvellous wrist-flicking-swipe at the end!  What a showing!… You couldn’t be more right, Stan, she is definitely going to be the one to beat in today’s Toilet Bowl Cleaning Competition.), or my ability to stir a pot of boiling water.

So, not to keep you guessing any longer, go to this video , and watch the red wolves of New York greet each other.  This is the video Tall Sister was getting set up for me to watch once I had unknowingly shown them what they wanted to see.  You’ll eventually see a new wolf come out of the den/hole-in-the-ground, and that is when the wolves will greet each other.  They wobble their heads from side to side like bobble-head dolls and they spastically lift alternating forelegs in a kind of penguin dance.  This is how my dog greets me every day when I come home from work.  He waits until I let him come up to me, and he head waggles, penguin dances and bows with gusto and abandon.  Exactly like the wolves greet other wolves, except that he also bows – probably because I’m such an awesome pack-leader that I deserve extra praise… right?

Ok, fine, probably because he wants a treat or wants to play with me.  But still, the main thing I get from this is that I am clearly considered to be Pack, and my dog is clearly actually a wolf.  In a fluffy orange kind of way.  I watched a video recently (and can I find it online?  Nope.  I’ll work on that and try to post a link later… or even just it’s name!) that explained that scientists had proven that every dog is descended from wolves.  EVERY dog.  Chihuahua to Husky, they’ve all got DNA portions that match best with wolves.  Not, as was originally thought, like hyenas and coyotes and whatever other wild dog type creature is present in a particular area.  There has been a ton of evolution since then, and I would definitely not recommend that you go out and get yourself a wolf pup.  This show spoke of studies done comparing a wolf pup and a dog puppy raised in the same environment, and the dog puppy is much more able to work with his person, and much more able to understand and communicate with his person.  But when speaking of origins – it is the wolf that originally started the journey to man’s best friend oh-so long ago.  I found it particularly interesting to see that this wobble-headed wolf greeting came through in my own furry buddy, despite his lack of wolf-ish-ness. 

For now, check out the red wolf video, and also some of their other videos – it is entrancing, watching these wolves go about their daily business from so close-by.  For later, I’ll try to find that video about the history of dogs, because it was very fascinating.  Also, do you see your dog do the wobble-headed-penguin-flap (for lack of a technical term) when he greets you?  Let me know!  I’m going to try to make a video of it, though it will require some coordination between me arriving home and Tall Sister having her camera set to videotape.  She’s reading this right now, going “Aw, man!  Why did I ever show Alex the wolves?!”